Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Book: The Long Tail

I found myself in a bookstore the other day and the limited selection of English books made it seem like time to check out The Long Tail (note the link is not to the same edition that I read).

The thesis is interesting: that consumer behaviour is changing due to increased selection, decreased distribution costs, better filtering and recommendation tools, and expanding access by amateurs to creative tools. The idea is that selling a few each of a million different things can now constitute a sizable and legitimate market. The history of mail order and consumerism in the United States also held my attention and there were pearls of interesting information about particular industries and companies thrown in.

Those were the good parts. But man do you have to wade through an enormous heaping pile of repetition to find them! I mean, I complained about the repetitiveness of Don't Think of an Elephant but The Long Tail makes that slender tome look like a particularly succinct haiku.

Anyone near me while I was reading will be able to confirm my level of frustration: every chapter or so I would snap, get up, and complain to whoever was nearest at the time (sorry!). Right down to the last chapter, we were still being treated—in every subsection!—to a paragraph-long definition of "long-tail economics" and its effects on commerce and consumers. Yes! Ok! We get it already!! The book should ha... I said we GET IT!!! The book should have been called The Long Read[1].

Basically The Long Tail should have just been an essay. In fact, it was just an essay so I wouldn't waste your money on the book. And if the original essay leaves you wanting, you can always try Wikipedia.

Don't Think of an Elephant also came out of a collection of essays so maybe this is a lesson for me (though it ought to be a lesson for authors). I bought Freakonomics at the same time as The Long Tail and I see it is also a collection of essays; so that doesn't thrill me with enthusiasm. Can anyone give me any comfort on that one? At this point even boring would be ok as long as it isn't repetitive...


[1] Credit for the title goes to Andy Stote. ;)

1 comment:

Colin Putney said...

Don't worry, Freakonomics is an excellent read. It's not a collection of essays so much as a collection of case studies. Each one is an application of economic analysis to a subject that economics doesn't usually deal with. The authors don't try to tie it all together into a grand theory, but they do write well. Worth the time.